Friday, June 03, 2011

Paul Ryan, still trying to find a way to lose his own congressional seat

Shortly before the hugely significant upset win by Democrat Kathy Hochul in the special election for the New York 26th Congressional District, I mused about what it would take for Paul Ryan, architect of the Republican plan to privatize Medicare, to lose his congressional seat in Wisconsin.

I said then that it takes a lot for incumbents to lose, but they sometimes do.

In the disastrous 2010 midterm elections, the Democrats lost 63 seats. In 2008, the GOP lost 21 and 30 in 2006. Keep in mind, though, that all 435 seats are up for re-election every two years, so chances are much better of holding on than getting the boot.

But, when the the boot comes in significant numbers, it can be because one side was successful in framing the debate in a way that makes the other side vulnerable. It is therefore no wonder that Paul Ryan was out there yesterday addressing the press corp, after the House GOP caucus met with the president, admonishing Democrats not to "demagogue" Medicare reform. In other words, he was more or less begging Democrats not to use the best issue they are ever likely to be handed to beat the crap out of the GOP.

Anyone with a memory that goes back more than a few minutes will enjoy the hypocrisy of Republicans saying this, given all the rich bullshit about death panels and threats to Medicare they were peddling on their way to a House majority back in November. But no one ever said Republicans were principled.

Anyway, back to Ryan's home district, the Wisconsin 1st. After election day in the NY-26th, it didn't take Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, long to say that it was in fact the Democrats plan to beat the hell out of the GOP with Medicare reform, as if anyone needed to be told.

Even in one of the most Republican districts, seniors and independent voters rejected the Republican plan to end Medicare. The American people will continue to hold House Republicans accountable for their plan to end Medicare from now until election day 2012.

The lesson was certainly not lost on Ron Zerban, a Democrat running against Ryan in 2012, who told Talking Points Memo:

I just am overwhelmed at the results from this election [in the NY-26th]. It's a harbinger of things to come. I'm certainly going to make this a key issue in the 1st Congressional District in Wisconsin. Democrats are going to focus on how we can actually shore up, strengthen and keep Medicare solvent, and this will be a clear distinction in the 2012 cycle.

Just to beat this argument to a pulp, as noted above, the Republicans were quite successful in frightening seniors during the midterm elections that Obama's health care plan would somehow work to deny them treatment or interfere with the doctor-patient relationship. Everyone recalls the bizarre signs at protest rallies saying things like "keep your government hands off my Medicare." That may have been a silly comment, but it spoke volumes about how attached people are to Medicare and how ready they are to punish politicians they think are going to tamper with it.

Elderly voters who turned against President Obama's Democrats last year for tampering with Medicare are now threatening to punish Republicans in the 2012 election over their plans to scale back the health care program for seniors.

The shift will likely be most pronounced in important swing states with older populations such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and New Mexico.

It's interesting to note that of this list of states, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have new Republican governors whose cost cutting measures are being greeted by plummeting polling numbers. To be sure, I suspect that Paul Ryan is not unaware of the relatively older demographic of his own state.

Yes, it's hard to beat incumbents, but there is something plaintive about the way Paul Ryan has been asking that Democrats not "use" the Medicare issue to their own political advantage. It's almost as if he knows that he may have screwed up in a big way, even to the point of putting his own congressional seat at risk.

But, to be clear, what the Democrats have been doing is simply speaking the truth about what Paul Ryan and the Republicans plan to do to Medicare. If Ryan wants to call that "demagoguing," he really needs to get himself a dictionary.

It is hard to know what issues will be top of mind on election day 2012, especially if the economic recovery continues to be weak. Right now, though, a plan to take something so important away from so many people seems like a safe bet to do electoral damage to those most responsible.

In an otherwise nonsensical piece in the Washington Post by Jennifer Rubin, she offered her opinion that Paul Ryan, by virtue of his budget plan and his attempt to sell it, has become the de facto leader of the Republican Party. She thinks that's a good thing. I wouldn't be so sure.

No, no one's going to take Ryan down by running a local campaign. The only way he loses this one is if he beats himself. Lucky for Democrats he's giving it his best shot.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost)

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